The dove is a traditional Christmas tree decoration that is symbolic of peace, purity, love and the Holy Spirit, which is referenced frequently in the Bible. The history of the dove as a Christmas tree ornament is closely linked with the history of the Christmas tree itself.
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Christmas Tree Tradition
Among the many customs of the Christmas holiday, the Christmas tree holds special significance because it represents both spirituality and charity. As early as the 16th century, Christians began decorating trees as part of their Christmas tradition. The Christmas tree is customarily decorated with small ornaments, which hang from its limbs. Christians originally used decorative items that represented facets of their faith or personal items that were symbolic of family ties.
Doves in Christian Lore
In the Bible, there are many references to the dove. When the Three Wise Men carried gold, myrrh and frankincense as gifts to Christ, the shepherds following them carried fruits, honey and doves. In the 55th Psalm, King David said, "Oh that I had wings like a dove! For then I would flee away and be at rest. Lo, then would I wander far off and remain in the wilderness. I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and the tempest."
These references give the dove special significance in the Christian religion and in the celebration of Christmas. Doves are symbolic of peace, purity, love and the Holy Spirit, all important concepts celebrated during the Christmas season. Because of this, doves became popular as Christmas tree decor.
Although turtledoves are also referenced in the Bible and in Christmas customs, such as the 12 Days of Christmas song, they are not the same as doves and are not traditionally used in Christmas tree decor.
The popularity of decorating Christmas trees with doves evolved with the popularity of the decorated Christmas tree. Although some Christians began decorating Christmas trees in the 16th century, it did not gain worldwide popularity until the middle of the 19th century.
James Hewitt, author of "The Christmas Tree" (which focuses on the customs and traditions of Christmas), traces the Christmas tree's popularity to the British royal family. According to Hewitt, “In the mid-19th Century, thanks to the popularity of the British Royalty, namely Queen Victoria and her German Prince Albert, the Christmas tree had an increase in popularity on a worldwide basis…published pictures showed the royal couple standing with their children around a Christmas tree.
Decorating with Doves
Decorating a Christmas tree with doves lends it a traditional, classic appeal. Many of these ornaments are very realistic in appearance, whether they're made of plastic, paper with feathers or decorative glass. Some people place the doves at various distances from one another on the Christmas tree, with their wings spread as if in mid-flight. Others place the doves so that they appear to be decorating the tree with strands of beads or garland, using their feet or beaks.